March 21, 2014

"A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer."

That's the subhead of a new Atlantic article by Hanna Rosin — head: "The Overprotected Kid" — which is actually mostly about a playground in North Wales that's really not the sort of thing Americans would accept in their towns:
The ground is muddy in spots and, at one end, slopes down steeply to a creek where a big, faded plastic boat that most people would have thrown away is wedged into the bank. The center of the playground is dominated by a high pile of tires....

[S]omeone has already started a fire in the tin drum in the corner, perhaps because it’s late fall and wet-cold, or more likely because the kids here love to start fires.... Nearby... a stack of filthy mattresses... large structures made up of wooden pallets stacked on top of one another... a frayed rope swing that carries you over the creek and deposits you on the other side, if you can make it that far (otherwise it deposits you in the creek).... the kids seem excited by a walker that was donated by one of the elderly neighbors...
It's an eyesore. It's low class. And also kids will get hurt, which I'm sure is the socially acceptable complaint.

58 comments:

SteveR said...

Very little of what I did outdoors as a child, which was a high percentage of my waking hours, would be acceptable in America these days.

Henry said...

I'm very happy we have woods behind our house.

From the article:

The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much.

The woods are overseen by an ad hoc parent who is working in the yard and intervenes on occasion to tell kids they're not allowed in the house until dark.

chickenlittle said...

Isn't Hanna Rosin the same woman who celebrated "The End of Men"?

Just asking.

What's up with her concern here? Parents didn't organize to make playgrounds sterile and unimaginative. It was driven more driven by community fear of litigation.

How about a timely book about the welcomed demise of frivolous lawsuits which impoverish communities?

Matthew Sablan said...

So, in short, supervised recess, with fire.

Matthew Sablan said...

Those pictures look less like a playground and more like a dump, though.

chickenlittle said...

"A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer."

On day someone will write:

A preoccupation with healthcare has stripped life of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it healthier.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Sweeney wrote in a 1979 paper published in Pediatrics."

-- Pediatrics is referenced TWICE in articles referenced on Althouse's blog recently! What an odd coincidence!

RecChief said...

but the headline is absolutely correct.

EMD said...

Those pictures look less like a playground and more like a dump, though.

What did Fat Albert and his gang do?

I used to play with my cousin out in the crick (Western PA) next to my grandmother's house. It wasn't a dump,but there was discarded things in there we would use to help build forts with. We'd be out all day long, and wouldn't come back until dark. We would have to wash with Lava soap to get clean.

Matthew Sablan said...

I remember playing with things like that too when I was a kid; we just never TOLD anyone we had scavenged these things, because we knew there'd be hell to pay.

Henry said...

chickenlittle wrote: What's up with her concern here? Parents didn't organize to make playgrounds sterile and unimaginative. It was driven more driven by community fear of litigation.

The litigation history is very well covered in the article.

St. George said...

Just yesterday---just yesterday-- I was walking along a path that follows a fast flowing, wide stream in the woods on the edge of town. To walk the the full length of the trail (which is heavily trafficked) one must cross the stream at three places, each of which has a sewer pipe whose diameter is about 30 inches running from one shore to the other. It's an easy crossing.

Yesterday I see a total of about eight heavy-duty steel posts driven into the ground at various crossings. Each post has a sign affixed to it reading something like "Crossing Prohibited. Danger" in English and Spanish! and giving the phone number of the local sewer authority, if one has questions!

What in the world did it cost to do all of this, not only in terms of supplies but in manpower and bureaucratic man hours, not just in this one location but probably throughout the county? $1000? $5000? $10,000? More?

A little risk is what made this country great. A lot of red tape not so much.

St. George said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Drill SGT said...

Most of what I did for fun as a tween and teen would be felonies now. I wanted to be a Chem Engr and in those days, nearly 50 years ago, you could order lots of neat stuff across the pharmacy counter.

Potassium Chlorate was a favorite. Along with flowers of sulfur.

We used to use the house gas meter to power our balloons (made by ironing dry cleaning bags between damp cloth).

Don't get me started on rocket engines...

CatherineM said...

That playground looks like a dump. Disgusting.

However, I agree with the writer about too safe. Too safe means NO fun. Most playgrounds these days have a structure 6 inches off the ground with a series of inter-connected platforms. I remember a a park near a relative with highest (maybe 2 stories?) slide I have ever seen and I begged my parents to go there. It was awesome and I am sure it no longer exists anymore than the just as high climbing bars with poles to slide down in the middle at my school. We were never bored on those playgrounds.

No merry go rounds, no see-saws, no cool slides make playgrounds dull places and they don't encourage outdoor play.

EMD said...

Those pictures look less like a playground and more like a dump, though.

I bet the kids love it, though.

Matthew Sablan said...

I would've loved it to as a kid.

It is now a question of whether I know better or if I'm just The Man now.

paul a'barge said...

Hanna Rosin hates men.

click here to view Hanna.

Hanna is a feminist. Never forget: Feminism is a culture of gender hate.

Robert Cook said...

"On day someone will write:

"A preoccupation with healthcare has stripped life of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it healthier."


No, they won't.

Robert Cook said...

"Hanna Rosin hates men.

"Hanna is a feminist. Never forget: Feminism is a culture of gender hate."


Hmmm...seems someone has a problem with women.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

As I say every time this topic comes up y'all should read the neurologist Oliver Sacks' memoir Uncle Tungsten. It's a bit draggy in parts but entertaining for his recollections of growing up in a huge British Jewish family full of brilliants and being allowed to buy (1940s) volatile chemicals and compounds at the corner store and experiment to his heart's content in his lab in the attic. His surgeon mother also encouraged him to observe her operating on his same-age classmate, which is a delightfully out of the box thing for a parent to.

I read that article last night with so much sadness and wistfulness. I couldn't give my children that kind of childhood and now they're half grown and have little idea how to entertain themselves even when given freedom. I try to let my daughter (12) roam the neighborhood, which includes a defunct golf course (good for semi-dangerous adventure, right?) but she just rides her bike to the corner store and buys a chicken leg and rides home. Sigh.

Who cares if the playground is disgusting. Children wash.

William said...

The playgrounds are safer, but, when you're a little older, the toys are far more dangerous. I have seen kids on in-line skates texting while in traffic. The skateboard is an instrument of mass destruction.

chickenlittle said...

Robert Cook said...No, they won't.

Yes. they will.

Scott M said...

Hmmm...seems someone has a problem with women.

Hmm...seems someone has a problem understanding that men can be feminists too.

Birches said...

I read the whole thing yesterday. I agreed with a lot of it. There are still some children today who are allowed to roam free and become independent at younger ages than most of the kids around them: children who come from larger families. Parents give them more responsibility and more freedom out of necessity, because there are younger children around who actually need help.

I'm already starting to see the difference in my own family. My oldest is 8, but I don't have time to hover over her to make sure she's doing her homework and that it's all correct. So I expect that she gets it done on her own, and she does. Some of the other parents at our school tell such horrible tales about homework time at their house, because they hover and watch and correct. The kids are usually the only one (or two) in the family...

Birches said...

I have a hard time understanding what the big deal is about lighting fires. It's in a fire pit. My kids help start fires when we're camping (in the fire pit). It seems like the same sort of thing.

Most of what the boys were doing is exactly the kind of thing my spouse's boy scout troop does when they go out. No big deal.

The Crack Emcee said...

Playgrounds in France always shocked me - hard dirt or concrete, no padding anywhere. Oblivious parents. Some serious shiners, scrapes, and knocks to the head for the kids.

Joe said...

"On weekdays after school she [Hanna Rosin's mother] just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all.... When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years."

Hence a generation of entitled adults whining when things don't go their way.

(The "You can do anything you want" lie hasn't helped any.)

jacksonjay said...

As the law prof said, "You can't trust a lawyer"!

David said...

Once again Hannah shows that she only knows one stratum of America.

We have athletic fields owned by the county about a block and a half from our house. Kids go there often without parental accompaniment. There is a wire fence they sometimes climb (for fun, access is easy through openings in the fence.) It has jagged wire all over the top. There is a 8 foot cinder block wall around the baseball outfield. Kids climb it and walk along the top of the wall. There's a swamp at one corner of the park and a graveyard at the other corner of the park. There's a 12 foot structure with a ladder behind home plate. The kids comb it and fool around up there. Dogs run loose in the park sometimes. It's right next to a busy street.

Welcome to the working class south. And this is in a town. The rural play areas are even less ideal than the once that Rosen thinks have taken over America.

There is a lot more to the United States than the Washington to Maine corridor, Hannah.

David said...

comb it = climb it

oleh said...

Between 7 and 10 I got to live in an apartment block in Poland (architecturaly like the projects, but a place where peole wanted to move to). The block was surrounded by construction. One of these appartment blocks could take 13 years to build, and so as a kid I got to play tag in skeletons of apartment buildings, climb mountains of excavated earth, play hide and seek amongst cranes, other heavy machinery and cement slabs. I got to build wood and styrofoam rafts and float them in holes dug for foundations, filled by rains and seldom pumped dry.We had epic rock fights in this land scape. And yes, we set fires.

It was great.

Scott M said...

One of these appartment blocks could take 13 years to build, and so as a kid I got to play tag in skeletons of apartment buildings, climb mountains of excavated earth, play hide and seek amongst cranes, other heavy machinery and cement slabs

Growing up, the two greatest places to play, bar none, were in construction sites or being on top of commercial buildings...any commercial buildings.

MikeR said...

Bill Cosby - Playground
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rqv38fP7cr0
Awesome.

MadisonMan said...

I just came from my son's high school. You have to be buzzed to get in (I was dropping off some hardware to a teacher) and the person manning the door wasn't there for the first 3 minutes I was waiting.

The preoccupation with safety is sold to credulous School Boards by people mentioning liability. Shameful.

Freeman Hunt said...

I played outside all the time as a kid, wandering neighborhoods, woods, and creeks. That's a lot different than playing in a dump!

Freeman Hunt said...

"You won't let Addison play in the Kiddie Shantytown? Oh, you must be one of those helicopter parents."

Ha ha!

Freeman Hunt said...

The playgrounds around here are way cooler than any of the ones around when I was a kid. The new safety requirements seem to allow them to build much taller, more complicated structures.

somefeller said...

paul a'barge said...click here to view Hanna.

She's an attractive woman who is far more successful than you, Paul. Hey, why don't you post a photo of yourself? Surely someone in your trailer park has a digital camera, even if you don't.

Julie C said...

The Freerange parenting website talks about a lot of these issues. People will comment about letting their kids walk down the street a block and neighbors calling the cops or whatever.

I think it does differ greatly from community to community. Where I am, you see kids riding bikes to school, walking around the town after school, sitting around chatting at the ice cream parlor, and generally being encouraged to develop some independence.

But I know some helicopter parents who are just nutty. And sadly, the kids can end up nutty, too, and completely unable to negotiate the ups and downs of life. The helicopter parents can't see the harm they do.

Unknown said...

That playground reminds me of where I grew up. The Gilbert chemistry set I had as a kid would today require a hazmat team to remove and get my parents arrested as terrorists.

John Scott said...

I remember reading about a study that showed that parents put their kids more at risk by driving them to a park than by just letting them play outside near their homes.

Even though we recently just gave my son dirt bike riding lessons for his 16th birthday, we were guilty of doing that when he and his sister were younger. Somehow the neighborhood kids and I survived playing outside in Chester, PA (recently voted the 2nd most dangerous city in America), so it was a bit rediculous driving them to the park all the time.

Michael said...

My oldest children used swings with long chains so the seats could go a mile high and they learned to pump higher and higher with each year of their growth and confidence. Then they would leap out at the apex of the pump and land squarely on the ground, a lesson in timing and gravity and risk taking. My youngest used swings with chains about half the length affixed to a wooden structure put in place of the old metal one. He learned to pump and jump but never felt the fear that went with the high swing, never had to gauge the risk. Playgrounds are now all built for little girls with slides of only a few degrees of declination and a length of a python

CatherineM said...

I fished all day on the dock in the harbor (picked up by his grandfather( when I was 9 and my companion was 8. None of my friends would allow that much unsupervised fun.

CatherineM said...

We were dropped off at the movies with out parents when we were 8 (when I saw Greese and the Muppet Movie among others).

We also swam in backyard pools virtually unsupervised (there was a mom or dad home). The rule was always no fake drowning or yelling for help unless you need it or you would have to go home.

Kirk Parker said...

St. George,

Take a tip from these fellows. True, you can't actually burn down a steel pillar, but you sure can obliterate the signs.

MadMan,

So, you're going to vote against every single incumbent board member next time? Or, better yet, run yourself on a Sanity In Our Schools platform?

Kirk Parker said...

Well, ok, it's one thing to advocate civil disobedience, but maybe not as far as actual vandalism.

But you could still hang a laminated sign on each pillar that says, "FOAD Nanny-statists! The Free People of ______ permit you to cross here at your pleasure!"

RonF said...

"more likely because the kids here love to start fires"

All kids love to start fires. I've been a Boy Scout leader for 22 years and trust me, I know. Fires are fun. Everybody knows it. Yeah, they're also dangerous. One way to approach that is to teach kids to be scared of even using matches. The other way is to teach them how to build a fire right and safely and how to put it out. I choose door #2. The suburban moms would much rather go for door #1 - which means that when a kid does light a fire - as at some point he will - he hasn't got a clue how to keep it from getting out of control or what to do when it does. Kind of like the approach they take towards guns, etc.

RonF said...

I went to a local Park District meeting to discuss some Scouting business. The topic of the Park District playground came up. One mother discoursed at length about how the slide there was unsafe and how it should have boards up and down both sides so that the kids couldn't fall out - and had to be made wide enough so that the mother's butts would fit in it so they could slide down holding their kid.

Another mother wanted all the wooden park benches ripped out and replaced with plastic ones because she noticed that one of them was a little rough and she was afraid a kid would pick up a splinter. The concept that maybe she and a few other concerned citizens could show up with some sandpaper and paint apparently didn't occur to her.

The Park District members took pains to assure them that the equipment was inspected yearly by their insurance company and met standards.

I had to bite my tongue, let me tell you. I almost had to walk out.

So forgive me if I seem a bit jaundiced about the mental state of the local mothers.

CatherineM said...

Ron, my friend called me concerned over Christmas break that her 19 year old, home from college, went to play "football" with some friends. She was worred about him getting hurt. He's not into sports, so I am sure it was very loose/flag version of the game. She said, yeah, but you know boys...I said he's a man. Supposedly.

It just about made me sick. He's 19...he DRIVES for God's sake. Cut the cord. Get a life.

CatherineM said...

Ron, my friend called me concerned over Christmas break that her 19 year old, home from college, went to play "football" with some friends. She was worred about him getting hurt. He's not into sports, so I am sure it was very loose/flag version of the game. She said, yeah, but you know boys...I said he's a man. Supposedly.

It just about made me sick. He's 19...he DRIVES for God's sake. Cut the cord. Get a life.

Revenant said...

Very little of what I did outdoors as a child, which was a high percentage of my waking hours, would be acceptable in America these days.

Same here. It worries me that kids have so little time on their own these days. How do you learn how to be on your own if you never are?

MadisonMan said...

So, you're going to vote against every single incumbent board member next time?

That is how I normally vote. Sometimes I'll give them a little leeway and vote for re-election once.

The problem is, of course, that few people run for the School Board, and unless the Teachers' Union okays you, good luck getting elected.

Kirk Parker said...

MadMan,

Hmmm, maybe it's time to start a Local Taxpayer's Union or something.

Brian McKim & Traci Skene said...

It sounds, in many ways, like Tippin's Pond, circa 1968. It was a pond/catch basin in my hometown of Pennsauken, NJ, that we frequented when we were kids. Just east of the the mighty Delaware River and some freight railroad tracks and a Hess tank farm. It was awesome, slightly dangerous and a great place to waste away a young boy's hours.

Rusty said...

Cornfields, industrial parks, a railroad switchyard. Creeks and ponds and woods.
Games of 'kick-the-can that would involve dozens of kids of various ages and last until well after dark.
Skating for miles on the frozen creek. Hunting pheasant and rabbits with a home made bow and arrows.

Harold said...

Playing army in the local ravines was fun. With mock weapons without bright orange tips. Used to be a lot of fun as a kid.

And today would bring an armed SWAT response and get people killed.

Not to mention EVERYONE had a water pistol the last week of school. Including some of the teachers. SWAT teams and arrests all around, if not dead teenagers should a school of students try it today.

A good 25% of (the males) in my HS class in a safe suburban area carried pocket knives to school. ALL of us who delivered newspapers after school did. It was a needed tool to open the tightly bound bundles tied with Gordian knots. Kids don't deliver papers today in most areas- adults do.

Life for kids has changed. Not for the better.

Harold said...

Oh, and as a Scout leader, and I note several are commenting today, I spend a week every summer surrounded by hundreds of teenage Scouts carrying knives, practicing archery and shooting, swimming and canoeing and boating, all having fun. And never worry about my safety amongst them- as they are all properly trained in how to properly use those knives, bows, and guns.

Only one camping trip each year requires us to tell the Scouts no knives. Canadian customs doesn't approve. Come to think of it, this year when I'm up there I'm going to have to ask if Canadian Scouts are allowed to carry pocketknife's with them on camping trips. Or if it's just the border crossing that doesn't allow them.